Arne Slot is inspired by Pep Guardiola, is obsessed with tactics and total control – just like his Dutch rival Erik ten Hag… so can the Liverpool target succeed where the Man United boss has failed in the Premier League?
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Arne Slot is inspired by Pep Guardiola, is obsessed with tactics and total control – just like his Dutch rival Erik ten Hag… so can the Liverpool target succeed where the Man United boss has failed in the Premier League?

May 20, 2024

The prospect of a Dutch manager with a near-maniacal focus on tactics taking charge of one the giants of English football has a certain familiar ring to it.

Two years after Erik ten Hag left Ajax for Manchester United, Arne Slot looks set to follow his old foe to the north west of England.

Slot has emerged as a strong contender for the Anfield gig and the unenviable task of replacing Jurgen Klopp, who will depart after nine years in charge at the end of the season.

Indeed, on Wednesday morning it emerged talks have already begun between Liverpool and Feyenoord with the compensation fee set at £8.5million. 

While ten Hag’s days at Old Trafford may be numbered following a dismal second season in charge, the parallels between him and Slot are obvious and not just in terms of looks and nationality. 

Feyenoord manager Arne Slot is the man expected to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool

Feyenoord manager Arne Slot is the man expected to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool

The Dutchman shares plenty of parallels with his countryman Erik ten Hag, the ex-Ajax boss

The Dutchman shares plenty of parallels with his countryman Erik ten Hag, the ex-Ajax boss 

Klopp's nine-year spell at Liverpool will come to a close at the end of the season

Klopp’s nine-year spell at Liverpool will come to a close at the end of the season 

Ten Hag was a solid if unspectacular centre-back. The 54-year-old played for Twente in three separate spells, De Graafschap, RKC Waalwijk and Utrecht over a career that spanned 13 seasons.

Similarly, Slot was a decent enough midfielder, albeit one whose technical abilities were hampered by a lack of pace.

The 45-year-old spent most of his career playing as No 10, making over 460 league appearances for FC Zwolle, NAC Breda, Sparta Rotterdam and PEC Zwolle.

Their respective limitations as players arguably helped ten Hag and Slot become the managers they are, as they understood the importance of teams working as one cohesive unit. 

Like ten Hag, Slot is ruthlessly ambitious and a control freak who demands total control at a club.

As Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and to a lesser extent Marcus Rashford have found out, players cross ten Hag at their peril.

Slot’s and ten Hag’s managerial spells in the Netherlands have also followed a similar path. 

Slot led Feyenoord to only their second Eredivisie title in 24 years last season

Slot led Feyenoord to only their second Eredivisie title in 24 years last season

He followed it up this season by winning the Dutch Cup last week against NEC Nijmegen

He followed it up this season by winning the Dutch Cup last week against NEC Nijmegen

The 45-year-old is ruthlessly ambitious and described as control freak by those close to him

The 45-year-old is ruthlessly ambitious and described as control freak by those close to him

When the latter took charge of Ajax in December 2017, the Amsterdammers had not won the league in three years – an eternity by their standards.

By the time he left for United, he’d lifted the Eredivisie title three times in four seasons and won two Dutch Cups along the way.

Slot, meanwhile, steered Feyenoord to their first league title in six years and only their second in 24 years last season.

The relentless pace set by PSV Eindhoven – who have won 26 of their 30 games so far – has denied Feyenoord a second consecutive triumph this term, but they secured the Dutch Cup last week.

Both ten Hag and Slot masterminded thrilling European runs in charge of Ajax and Feyenoord. 

In 2019, the Amsterdammers memorably put Juventus and Real Madrid to the sword en route to reaching the Champions League semi-final for the first time since 1997.

Only Lucas Moura’s stunning second-half trick denied Ajax a spot in the final, as Tottenham progressed after winning 3-2 at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Two years ago, Slot piloted Feyenoord to the Europa Conference League final, where they lost to Roma 1-0.

Last season, Jose Mourinho again put paid to Slot’s European dreams as Roma beat Feyenoord on penalties to reach the quarter-finals of Europa League.

After the first leg, Slot made it clear his idea of learning was watching Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, rather than Mourinho’s football.

‘He always wants to play attacking football, he always wants possession, he always wants a good set-up from the goalkeeper to find free space and free players in the midfield,’ Martijn Krabbendam, a journalist for Voetbal International who has covered Slot’s Feyenoord, told The Athletic

‘It’s no secret he is crazy about Guardiola — he’s an example.’ 

Slot’s remark was telling as ten Hag described the two years he worked alongside Guardiola at Bayern Munich – where he took charge of the second team – as ‘like winning the lottery’.

Ten Hag was a studious and diligent man anyway, but working alongside Guardiola gave further vindication to his methods. 

‘He worked with Pep at Bayern Munich and took in his philosophy too,’ Steve McLaren told the Daily Telegraph two years ago.

‘They called him “Mini Pep” out there.’ 

While they have both been inspired by Guardiola, ten Hag and Slot have sought to shape their own tactical approach.

The Feyenoord boss’s is wedded to a 4-3-3 formation, whose intensity of pressing and high energy attacking bears many resemblances to Klopp’s ‘heavy metal’ football.

Ten Hag won the Eredivisie three times in four seasons during his spell at Ajax

Ten Hag won the Eredivisie three times in four seasons during his spell at Ajax 

Like Slot, the 54-year-old is a disciplinarian who is near-maniacal when it comes to tactics

Like Slot, the 54-year-old is a disciplinarian who is near-maniacal when it comes to tactics 

Feyenoord scored 28 goals in 11 games in their Europa League campaign in 2022, failing to find the net in just three matches – the final being one of them.

Last season, they scored 81 goals in 34 games as they stormed to the Eredivisie title – the third-highest tally behind PSV Eindhoven and Ajax.

Ten Hag, meanwhile, vowed to make United the ‘best transition team in the world’ this season.

‘We want to surprise,’ he said last summer.

‘We want to play dynamic [football], we want to play with speed and we want to play aggressive [football].’

Slot works assiduously with his players in training to deliver a high-energy brand of football

Slot works assiduously with his players in training to deliver a high-energy brand of football

The Dutchman has made no mystery he considers Pep Guardiola an inspiration

The Dutchman has made no mystery he considers Pep Guardiola an inspiration 

Ten Hag described working alongside Guardiola (left) at Bayern Munich for two seasons as 'winning the lottery'

Ten Hag described working alongside Guardiola (left) at Bayern Munich for two seasons as ‘winning the lottery’

Those claims have fallen spectacularly flat – United have the worst attacking record of any of the top-10 in the Premier League this term with only 51 goals scored – but his record at Ajax suggests his faith was justified.

Ajax scored 119 goals as they won a first league title under ten Hag in 2019, plundering in 102 and 98 goals respectively as they lifted the trophy again in 2021 and 2022.

Significantly, the only conceded 32, 23 and 19 goals over those three campaigns, while Feyenoord allowed 30 last term.

Ten Hag’s debut season in England seemed the perfect cornerstone for him to build upon, as he led United back into the Champions League and won the club’s first trophy in six seasons, while reaching another final along the way.

But despite his impressive record in Holland and a near-perfect start to life in the Premier League, this season it has all unravelled at a rate of knots for the former Ajax boss.

Liverpool will hope the similarities between him and Slot don’t extend that far. 

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